TED-style Talk Success: Leadership Matters

You could call it the TED talk effect. We have come to expect people to share complicated, technical, even scientific and medical concepts in an accessible way. One key area of change that organizations want is a culture that embodies communicating ideas in short, impactful talks. But, changing the culture and norms of an organization can be an uphill climb.

Last week we wrapped up coaching nearly twenty of the top young minds in medical research. They were each tasked with presenting their research to other smart fellows and doctors. On a stage flanked by seemingly endless rows of research posters, filled with dense data and methodology charts, these few were chosen to present their research in a different way. They had to deliver years of research and science in a clear, concise, and accessible manner- in six minutes.

All of them were fully capable of achieving this goal from those sharing advanced mathematics modeling to novel therapies that can save babies from currently untreatable conditions. They created stories and analogies to translate their science for an audience that was both brilliant but also unfamiliar with their particular area of expertise.

The Difference Between Good and Exceptional

On a whole, all the speakers were successful. But some were exceptional in how they fully embraced translating their science. The deciding factor surprised us. It was the leadership in each of their labs.

As it turned out, the pressure to succeed in these talks was not just felt by the young fellows on stage. They represented their bosses, most of whom got behind the idea of making the science accessible. The talks from those labs will be remembered, the audience understood and learned from those ideas.

Throughout the prep for this event, however there were mentors who pushed the remaining fellows to present more traditional science talks filled with data, charts, and to use technical terms only understood by others in their labs.

Inspired by what he heard from these exceptional young minds, the leader of the organization joined them on stage in an unplanned address. He shared with the audience the tremendous value he placed on their ability to express research in an accessible way and how impressed he was with the short talks.

Communication culture changes are possible, especially when the new expectations are set at the top. We are working against decades of competing communication norms and while the leader at the top wanted it, and the young minds were imminently capable of delivering differently, the upper echelon of the organization had yet to buy into the change. But, I would be willing to bet that minds changed in that auditorium and that perhaps those leaders now have a new appreciation for communicating differently.

The tide is turning, we see it in our work every day. Doctors, scientists, researchers, data teams and more have to share their work with stakeholders that fund, invest, and act on their findings. That does not mean dumbing it down, it does mean making it accessible.

Brush up on your own speaking skills at our Dec. 7 Content Framing and Storytelling class. Register now.